At the end of Going Postal, Moist von Lipwig makes a bet that his post office can deliver a message to a town thousands of miles away before the Grand Trunk company can. Immediately before the race begins, von Lipwig pulls a scam against his rival, Reacher Gilt.

von Lipwig brings an ordinary broom painted to look like a witch's broom. Taking the bait, Gilt assumes that the broom can actually fly and gets angry at the postmaster, demanding the rules be changed. By the time the dust has settled, Gilt has agreed that in exchange for von Lipwig leaving the broom behind, his clacks towers won't use the horses stationed at them. Gilt also agrees to personally bet 100,000 dollars with von Lipwig.

I don't understand why these concessions benefit von Lipwig. In fact, his true plan does not depend on having additional money at stake or preventing Gilt from using his horses at all.

Working with Old Trunk employees, von Lipwig intercepts the message the Grand Trunk sends and replaces it with a message that implicates Gilt and his cronies of fraud and embezzlement. This gives Lord Vetinari the excuse he needs to investigate and take over the Grand Trunk company.

This plan works even if Gilt doesn't put more money on the line; has horses he can use to bypass broken towers; or even uses his horses as a pony express, as von Lipwig claimed to be afraid of.

So how does von Lipwig benefit from having pulled this trick on Gilt?

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    Because it lets Gilt think he's figured out Lipwig.
    – Radhil
    Jun 28, 2018 at 16:52
  • 2
    You've answered the question in the question. He doesn't want the rickety clacks towers to be replaced with a horse relay. It's a very clear, up-front trick for Gilt to work out. His reputation as a trickster is known, so he plays that out in public, visibly tipping the odds (slightly) in his favour, hiding the actual win.
    – AJFaraday
    Jun 29, 2018 at 10:23

2 Answers 2


Moist understands how Reacher Gilt thinks (because it's the same way he himself thinks). He knows that Gilt will expect Moist to have a cunning plan to win by cheating. So Moist obliges him with a fake method of cheating for Gilt to discover and foil.

But because they are both not just clever but superlatively clever, Gilt will suspect that any ploy that was so easy to foil must have some kind of ulterior motive. So Moist also supplies him with an equally fake ulterior motive, removing the horses.

The purpose of all this is misdirection. Gilt believes that Moist intends to cheat at delivering the message, and that he intends to stop Gilt from likewise cheating at delivering the message, which reinforces the idea that delivering the message is what's important. But Moist has no intention of completing the challenge, as you point out. Therefore no matter what convoluted knots Gilt twists himself into trying to outthink Moist, he will fail because he's not thinking in the right terms.

Gilt's face was a mask of glee. Now he knew what Moist intended.... It was the heart of any scam of fiddle: keep the punter uncertain, or, if he is certain, make him certain of the wrong thing.

In some ways, this is similar to the Find-the-Lady game Moist used to run, where he was patently bad at the game itself because it was just a distraction while he passed forged coins or picked pockets.

He also takes the opportunity to irritate Gilt as much as possible, because angry people are not very good at analyzing situations to see when they're being taken advantage of. That's the reason for the betting and taunts (like splitting the message in half and giving Gilt the smaller half).

And now I have you in the hollow of my hand, he thought to himself. The hollow of my hand. You're enraged now. You're making wrong decisions. You're walking the plank.

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    Small addition: Moist was also playing for time. He needed to delay transmission till after sunset.
    – TRiG
    Jun 28, 2018 at 21:05
  • This makes a lot of sense! I still have a question, though. Does the novel show any specific decisions that Reacher Gilt makes differently as a result of being mad or thinking he has von Lipwig figured out? If I remember correctly, Gilt doesn't show up again until the scene where he's watching the results of the race. So it seems like Terry Pratchett didn't make the results of von Lipwig's mind-games explicit unless there's something I'm missing.
    – Kevin
    Jun 29, 2018 at 14:55
  • @Kevin You appear to be correct. There's the scene in the square, which is the one you're talking about, and then Moist goes to set his real plan in motion, and then we immediately cut to the big reveal of the result, all without passing back to Gilt's POV. So while Moist's reasoning is clear, whether it had any effect is left uncertain.
    – Cadence
    Jun 30, 2018 at 2:15

My understanding is banning use of the horses was a real and necessary goal, as a hedge in case something went wrong.

If the message gets to even one tower, and the tower operators there figure out what's happening with the upstream interception, those horses could still provide a tremendous head start to those tower operators trying to carry the message on by hand. This is especially true as they might only need to go just a little further down the line to re-encode the message after the interception. Even if Mr Gilt himself figures it out, being able to ride at full gallop just one or two towers out and switch horses might give him enough of an advantage to pass Moist.

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